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The Creation of Wilderness: A Century of Dioramas at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Wed May 5th 2021, 2:15 - 3:00pm

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) maintains the only active, large-scale diorama program in the country, still employing a full time taxidermist and displaying 63 habitats from Africa and North America. Though these dioramas are among the most viewed in the world—familiar to 800,000 annual visitors and millions more who have seen them in films and TV shows—NHM’s habitat groups have never been studied. We present initial findings from a Getty Foundation Pacific Standard Time Research Grant that is allowing the processing and digitization of rich archives and oral histories surrounding the creation of the dioramas. These untapped archives promise important contributions to our understanding of diorama art and its impact on how we view nature. Unique among museums, NHM’s dioramas are not static time capsules but are instead frequently changed and updated. Their history is also interwoven with the nearby illusion industries of Hollywood and Disneyland. We invite feedback and interest in this archival research, which will lead to a centennial exhibition in 2024 examining these captivating amalgams of art and science.

Matt Davis is an Exhibition Developer at NHM where he curated Frozen in Time: Images of Antarctica. He was previously a Fellow at Aarhus University in Denmark and the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.

Cyrene Cruz is the Processing Archivist at NHM where she is focused on processing collections and conducting oral histories for the PST diorama centennial project. She earned her master's degree in History at California State University, Los Angeles, where she continues to work as Archives Assistant in their Special Collections and Archives.

Liz Andres is a museum professional focused on education and exhibitions, with over 20 years of experience working in art museums, natural history museums, zoos and aquariums. She holds degrees in Art History, Classical Archaeology, and Museum Studies from U.C. Berkeley and the University of Leicester, and has conducted research on museum taxidermy and representations of death and nature in western art.